Customer retention - how to ensure loyalty
Now more than ever, maintaining customer loyalty and attracting new customers is fundamental for travel insurers. Clara Bullock takes a closer look the range of methods travel insurers are implementing to keep their customers engaged at this unusual time
Ensuring customer loyalty throughout the pandemic – and until international travel resumes again – is one of the biggest challenges travel insurers are currently facing. Travel insurance may be top of mind for travellers due to Covid-19, but it is important that travel insurers utilise this momentum to stay relevant for customers going beyond the global pandemic.
As Phil Ost, Head of Personal Lines at insurance firm Zurich in the UK, noted: “Customer loyalty is incredibly important, yet can be very tricky to manage in the largely price-driven travel space. Previous positive customer experience is usually key here, but there is always more we can do for our annual multi-trip customers, with whom communications touch points are more frequent.”
Frequent and clear communication with customers is key
One of the most important ways of keeping customers interested and keen to buy new policies is by keeping communication lines with them open. A popular way of staying in touch is sending out regular newsletters, to keep customers up to date about travel and ways of staying safe abroad.
A spokeperson at UK-based insurer Staysure, said that the company was using newsletters to keep customers informed about Covid-19. “We’ve kept our existing customers, and consumers looking for insurance, regularly updated via our weekly newsletter, providing relevant information related to travel, Covid and their policies. We post daily social media updates across all our channels, with the latest Covid- and travel-related news. Plus, we have proactively kept every customer who has their trip affected by country closures and/or Covid restrictions informed of their rights for refunds, vouchers and policy date changes (using email, SMS and outbound phone calls).
“For us, it’s the single most important programme we have,” Staysure's spokesperson said. “In fact, our ethos is that any trustworthy travel insurer should prioritise customer retention, as we believe it’s a key measure of service performance.”
“We have a customer relationship programme in place to keep our customers engaged throughout the year, with relevant travel inspiration and news, partner offers, rewards, competitions and topical content. Our monthly newsletter also provides customers with information about travel, health, wellbeing, product updates, as well as exciting things to do on holiday.” They further explained that the company also has a multi-channel renewal programme in place, which uses the customer channel of choice to communicate with them via direct mail, email, SMS and call centres – all designed to keep customers fully informed of their options for renewal. “We usually contact our customers ahead of their policy expiry and offer a gentle reminder to get a new quote to ensure continuous cover, whilst adhering to the Financial Conduct Authority requirements around shopping around at renewal.”
Communicating in a digital world is a key component of customer retention
Sasha Gainullin, CEO of UK-based travel insurer battleface, pointed out that communicating in a digital world – with social media, blogs and newsletters – is a key component of customer retention. “Travel insurance needed to evolve, and part of that is still within communications. That’s where we came in and tried to disrupt the market. The most important feedback we get is about our clear communication – whether it’s social media or our 24/7 customer service centre.”
Louise Fowler of Davenport Strategy, an expert on services marketing, spoke at ITIC Connected in November about customer retention. She mostly focused on digital communications with customers – her main point being that there should be a shift in focus to see the world from the eyes of the customer, not the company providing the service. While consumers are changing in the online world, it’s imperative to keep up to date on what would make their lives easier. She went on to say that constantly trying to engage with customers should be a top priority. Using social media and other channels online to chat with consumers and make them feel heard could inspire real loyalty with a specific company.
Focusing on travel insurance in particular, Fowler said: “It’s difficult for customers who are anxious about travel. You shouldn’t wiggle out of the responsibility and, as an industry, you need to communicate better. It’s important to think carefully about customers as things are changing.”
Adding Covid-19 cover to policies
The skill in customer service, Fowler added, is to offer genuine value, instead of making empty promises. Humility and humour, she concluded, are the best ways to communicate with customers.
battleface’s Gainullin added that travel doesn't just happen between Monday and Friday from eight to five – which is why constant interaction with customers is so important. Additionally, battleface tries to improve its products continuously, adapting to customers’ needs. “The world is constantly changing, with pandemics, terrorism or even political changes. That means we are constantly on a mission to improve and enhance our benefits.”
At the moment, this mostly includes adding Covid-19 cover to policies and making sure travellers feel safe enough to book holidays. Staysure’s spokesperson explained: “We are constantly adapting our policies to ensure they cater to consumer needs, throughout this ever-changing period. We created tailored cover against Covid-19 at home and abroad, we also allowed customers to defer their policy start dates for up to a year on their renewals, and gave every annual policyholder three additional months free of charge, to make up somewhat for lost time travelling.”
Selling more single-trip policies is another way insurers are adapting to their customers’ needs during the pandemic. As Gainullin said: “We are offering short-term policies, to make it easy for travellers to adjust their benefits according to their needs during Covid-19.
Zurich’s Ost added that the company had increased flexibility in its single-trip policies should customers be unable to travel as a result of UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office changes relating to Covid-19, as well as simplifying its cancellation terms. “We anticipate that, as demand for travel ramps up over the next few months or into next year, we will see an increasing prevalence of single-trip over annual multi-trip cover, with shorter lead times before trip start dates. What will be key for us is driving repeat purchases beyond the traditional annual multi-trip renewal processes,” Ost said.
How to ensure loyalty
Once customers have had a good experience with customer service, policy updates meeting their needs and helpful communication online, it remains important to make sure they remain loyal to a specific insurer. Commenting on this, Staysure's spokesperson noted: “We have already begun to invest in more policy benefits, and we’re giving something back to loyal customers where possible, by continuing to offer three months free and freeze their renewal premium offer from the last 12 months. We believe customers shouldn’t suffer for loyalty, so we’re looking to give more back when the world opens up again and travel becomes less restricted.”
And Ost added: “Customer loyalty is built over time and through trust. But other factors such as brand reputation, value for money, clear policy wording, straightforward and transparent customer purchase journey, excellent customer service and swift and efficient claims handling are essential to create that trust between the customer and their insurer.”
While often, companies tend to focus more on gaining new customers, making sure the ‘old’ ones stay loyal should remain a key marketing strategy, especially during these unstable times. With strategies such as keeping customers informed via digital channels, improving policies to fit with customers’ needs and offering rewards for loyalty, insurers are making sure they won’t be forgotten while travel restrictions remain in place.
Gainullin concluded: “Travel insurance is more important than ever right now. Not just because of Covid-19: in Europe, Brexit is coming up, so awareness of travel insurance will most likely continue to be very high. So, as travel insurers, we should make sure to remain on the forefront of the fight to stay relevant.”